Cultural populisms and culture industry
in Critical theory and demagogic populism
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This chapter directly addresses the issue of cultural populism which is often bracketed out in the orthodox literature. It opens with an extended discussion of the relationship between aesthetic movements, fascism and populism. The Institute’s critical discussion of Volksgemeinschaft, ‘community of the people’, and its links to the culture industry thesis, is included here. The chapter so moves ‘cultural populism’ beyond the confines of its recent critical application to the British cultural studies project, the latter being the source of many cultural populist charges of ‘cultural elitism’ against the Frankfurt School. The similar earlier critique of the Institute by Shils, based in the category of ‘mass culture’, is critically assessed. Cultural populism’s longer history and relevance to ‘political populism’ is examined, drawing on the final writings of Eugene Lunn. The little recognized role of ‘popular art’ within the Institute’s culture industry writings is elaborated and deepened in order to move beyond the instrumental role of ‘popular culture’ in most Gramscian conceptions of the counter-hegemonic towards the focus of the next chapter.

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